Saturday, March 5, 2011

Learning Curve '99 (Part One)

                               Emil Interlude

     So what exactly did Markie Boy learn on that first trip? Not a whole lot but what he did figure out was important. Next year he sure as hell wasn't going in August. Over the winter his German blood came to the fore. Don't knock it. There are some good points to being anal and overly organized. In this particular case he got out the Manitoba Master Angler Awards for '97 he'd gotten from Manitoba Tourism and a magic marker. Highlighted every walleye and northern caught in the western half of the park. Claimed he nearly went blind with the thousands of big fish and the little print. More time with the purple butt. But one thing was for sure, June out-fished all the other months put together and then some. Coulda told him that but he wouldn'ta listened. 'Course by the time I was his age, me and water had spent a lot more time together. I grew up around water and saw it in all its phases. After a winter in Parkers Prairie 'bout the only thing on my mind was gettin' out on the lake as soon as it would float a boat. Crappies after ice out were better than nothin'. Manitoba was the same drill only it took a bit more guessing than just looking out the window with a cuppa coffee in my hand.              
     However, it doesn't matter much where you are. Water is water and fish are fish. Doesn't take an Einstein to figure out you wanted the ice out, water warming up and the bugs down to have a good time. As for hot fishing I'd time it so the walleyes were done making babies and gettin' hungry. They don't smoke after sex but sure do like a good meal. So for me it was early June. Same for them.
     By the way, he happened to pick up on a little gem. One of my favorite spots also. Wedge Lake. Bit of a wet portage offa Third Cranberry but definitely worth the trip. His eye was drawn to it from the get-go. Didn't let on much more than a mention or two to Al. Even saying the name aloud was kind of like revealing the identity of a secret, from afar, love. The kind only you know about. Wedge was a couple of thousand acres and island heaven. Been there myself a few times. 'Course he longingly paddled by the portage the first year. But it was on his mind, I can guarantee you that.

     Our second Canadian trip began with the Word and the Word was June. The fishing guide told me most everybody and his dog could catch pickerel and jackfish in June. Though the guide didn't exactly say it I figure most everybody included me and Allan. Before I move on there's a little truth that needs telling. We did so badly fishingwise in '98 it unnerved me. No doubt we'd have done a whole lot better around the cabin. Driving nine hundred miles and paddling thirty more into the boonies with a handful of pike to show for it didn't say much for our fishing abilities. I had fears that if '99 was a repeat we wouldn't ever be let back in Canada.
     "Headin' to Grass River Park are ya boys? Let's take a look, eh. Wait for the old computer to come around. Oh my! Can't say as I've ever seen that before. Says here you boys have stunk up our lakes for two years running. Can't be having that. No siree. Don't want anybody giving our wilderness waters a bad name. 'Specially a couple of Yankee Doodlers like you two. Going to have to tell you to turn right around and head back south to your bullheads and sunnies. Tell you what, I'll tell the people in line you're a couple of pornographers so as not to cause you any undue embarrassment. Now skedaddle!"
     Once again we didn't travel light. Seemed like having to drive fifteen hours made us pack more than just the necessities. Besides a cooler of fresh food we threw in a pair of five pound camp chairs. Never saw them included on any 'what to bring to the boonies' lists but we came to swear by them. After six hours on a canoe seat the thought of rock, log or ground as a parking place had little appeal. Our asses loved us for the chairs. Smartest things we ever humped across a bog.
     Also threw in a new access point in hopes of this old dog getting a bone for learning a new trick. This time at the southwest corner of the park we'd drive eastward and enter on Simonhouse Lake. Looking back on it, the change was about the same as putting on the left shoe first once in a while. Either way your shoes were on but the end result was more or less the same. Simonhouse was much bigger than First Cranberry. Twenty thousand wide open acres of water. But it had an island filled north arm that looked really good. That the awards guide told us a lot of big pike and walleyes were caught in Simonhouse sealed the deal. I figured, why not us? I was still wandering around in the dark.
     Again we found our Thursday night bed at the Wescana Inn. Awoke to a truly splendid soaking rain. Had this been farm country, there would have been a lot of smiling faces. But not on mine. From my point of view the weather sucked all the way through breakfast. I tend to sink into the pit of despondent lethargy at the drop of a hat. Would have sat there most of the morning but Al broke my 'poor me' spell with a, "Let's get out of here. If we're gonna sit and watch the puddles grow, let's watch 'em at Simonhouse." Five minutes later we were leaving The Pas behind. Over the miles rain became mist then fog.
     This year we needed a permit so we could park the Jeep. Luckily the ranger at the campground entrance was in. Not only was he in but he spent ten minutes of his day 'X'ing out the fishing hot spots on our map. Seems he'd been a guide in his previous life. Must not have gotten in enough time in the outdoors, or maybe a retirement, so he went for the uniform. Not to spill any future beans but over the years we had a lot of 'X'ing done on our maps. All were suppose to be hot. All were appreciated. None produced fish. Guess they were Canadian-only hot spots.
     Before we left, he emphasized he'd only pointed out the walleye holes. Like that was necessary to say. Guess he figured that since we'd been in the park before, we must know what a pain in the ass jackfish were. Swarmin' after your lure like dock sunfish attacking a grasshopper. So many pike you'd get to cussin' them out and rippin' your lure out of the water. The way he put it, a person could walk all the way to Elbow lake on their slimy pike backs and not get your feet wet. Somehow the look in his eyes told me he knew the truth about our last year adventures and was laying on heavy Canadian sarcasm at its best. Of course we went along with his spiel, bobbing our heads in total agreement like too many pike was the bane of our life. We tried to keep our tails from tucking in as we slunk out the door. Once in the open air we drove down to the ordinary looking wooden access dock. As the sun began to peek out, our hopes for redemption on the water woke up. This year was going to be different. All we had to do was take the gear out, load it up and do a three mile crossing.

Simonhouse Access
     All of Canada was over there waiting for us once again. The fog was all but gone and the water was glass. No problems anywhere except between my ears. What I saw, up ahead a mile, just behind the point on the left, was the God of Eternal Misery. And he had a little squall chained up like a pit bull with a crotch rash. Soon as we hit open water he'd turn it loose. Five foot white caps would build in an instant and we'd be dead meat. Yeah, I knew the truth. The odds on that were zip. Didn't matter at all. We smoked it dead straight across the lake. Could almost have mistaken us for real canoe men.
      There we were bobbing in the sunlight off a friendly slab of point rock, sippin' soda, feet on the gunwales. Coulda been '98. At least until an omen came to pay us a visit. Allan claimed he saw a walleye swim by. Nice of the boonies to send us a welcoming envoy. A person could get all warm and philosophic about something like that. Not here. That kind of crap only seems to work in novels. The real world had me looking over the side of the boat and not seeing anything but green tinted, rubble rock bottom. Maybe adding a, "You must be dreaming." 
     Outside of that the boat traffic sure was different than last year. Seemed like everyone in Manitoba with a motor and something that'd float had decided Grass River Park was the place to be. Big boats, big motors, bigger fishermen. Not what we were looking for but we still had a campsite to find and a few dozen boat wakes to rock and roll through on the way. 
     My thanks to the Canadians for preferring island campsites. We liked them also. Lunch was a quick affair. The plan always called for ribeyes and hash browns. We loved hash browns but they took too long to reconstitute and fry up when the fish were calling. So it was ribeyes and peasant bread slathered with butter. Arteries crying no-no and taste buds in ecstasy. Balance of life again.
     Bluebird skies and power boats should have been a clue. The wilderness feeling we sought was at least a portage away. This could have been Lake Minnetonka by the Twin Cities. We both knew the fishing was gonna suck. All we had to do was go out and prove it. When I find myself in spots like that I can be a real bonehead. Can't see past the game plan. But, what the hell, it was Canada, June and we had rods in the canoe. So we threw spinners 'til our arms grew tired. After a year of not seeing this land, the scenery was enough to carry us through an afternoon and evening of poor fishing. Better than last year? Maybe, maybe not. Little pike here. Little pike there. Not everywhere. Fished right on top of one of the ranger's X's. X marked the not.
     Thankfully we had the dragonfly follies back in camp. Huge, huge hatch. They were everywhere. First, you've gotta understand Allan has no love for them. His distaste goes back as far as I can recall. Don't know if it's their big, bulgy eyes or their habit of landing most anywhere on a person's body they feel like. Or the way they decorate a car's radiator with body parts. The idea of an elaborate wood framed, glass cased and velvet lined insect collection gathered from the front end of my car holds its appeal for me. I'm one sick puppy but also a lazy one. So the bug case hangs only on the wall of my mind.
     As we lazed in camp a show unfolded above us and the dragonfly's role in the scheme of things began to have its appeal for Allan. Not that he ever grew to like them but he did see their use. 
     First let's take a step back. Half of the show above usually found its fun at night.  That night as I  was dropping off to sleep, a background roar stepped in and opened my eyes wide. Not all horrors are big. Bears don't wander through a camp and tear bodies apart all that often. But a soft background roar, not much louder than the exhaust fans in an office building, made me ask the question, "What the hell is that?" And it was a hell. Coming from every direction. Mosquitoes. Big frickin' mosquitoes. Man-eaters tough enough to survive a fifty below Canadian winter. I wanted to kiss the Eureka! for keeping that biomass outside. How many mosquitoes add up to a roar? Don't ever want to know.
     On the flip side that afternoon we found ourselves in a dragonfly hatch to behold. Above us they were decimating a column of 'skeeters. And those little dragons were cocky good at snatching their meals. If insects can have fun, we were watching it in action. Comin' at the mosquitoes from all angles. Right side up, upside down, sideways. Showin' off for each other and maybe doin' a little courting in the process. "Look at me! I can eat four at once. Imagine what I can do in the sack baby!" I liked them before and liked them even more as the show went on and we mulled it over. A simple pleasure to sit in the sunlight, nowhere we had to be but right there watching the food chain in action. Almost made us feel sorry for the 'skeeters.

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